Ozark Auctions and Talismans

Our neighbor Doug turned 87 years old and decided he could no longer live by himself on his homestead. So, like the character Doug is, he blew up 60 years of life-on-the-land in one single day by auctioning off everything he owned and moved away to live near his daughter.

Auctions are common in the country, and quite a social event. Signs go up along the road, notices run in the local paper, and people mark their calendars with the time and date. Death and bankruptcy are the primary reasons for estate auctions, and those auctions have the air of a funeral about them, but sometimes people just want to cash out and move on, like Doug. These make for happier auctions, and such was the case with Doug’s.

C and I wandered down the lane to watch and enjoy the show. Pickup trucks were everywhere and dozens of people milled about the rows of folding tables the auctioneers had set up on Doug’s sizable front lawn. The entire contents of his home, barn, and shed were set out on them with numbered cards on each item. Lamps, chairs, pots and pan, riding mowers, boxes of hammer heads with no handles, broken record players, row upon row of Doug’s old junk were on display. Doug’s entire life story was strewn out for anyone to pick through. For sale – Doug’s life.

Doug was there and having a grand old time. He was a gregarious fellow who looked a lot like Papa Smurf in a plaid shirt and ball cap, white beard and all. He was working the crowd like he was running for political office while the professional auctioneers chattered away on handheld loudspeakers, doing the real work. The crowd was mostly neighbors who wanted to gawk at Doug’s life-on-display and say goodbye.

After selling off a door-knob collection and boxes of country music LP’s, the crowd got quiet when it came time to sell the jewels of Doug’s possessions – his rifles.

Rifles are very important to Ozarkians; they are more than mere firearms. They are talismans to country people and their cultural heirs. They contain sacramental properties which provide the owner power and protection from evil. A man who possesses a firearm is a man who possesses that which country people honor and long for the most: the essential element of “liberty”. We city folk do not understand the spiritual and cultural power of firearms for country folk. These talismans were now up for sale, their power ready for transfer. It was almost a holy moment.

Doug had real sporting rifles: hunting pieces and shotguns for fowling. Nothing semi-automatic or quasi-military. They all went rather quickly, and when the last rifle was sold, 50% of the men left. The only things to be sold now were the house and the land. There was a lively duel between our cattle rancher neighbor Christine and a fellow from the nearby town of Fiddlestix (pop. 4756), and Christine won. We were relieved. It meant that Doug’s place would stay preserved as a rural homestead. Windy Hill would continue to be surrounded by quiet countryside.

And suddenly it was over. Doug’s life was sold in a matter of hours. He waved goodbye, got into the backseat of his daughter’s car, and she drove away. We never saw Doug again. So it goes.

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